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26 October 2018

Voice Technology: more than a buzzword?

‘Voice-activated technology goes mainstream’, headlines Chief Marketer. ‘There is no denying that voice is the future’, claims PWC. ‘Voice Technology is transforming our lives and businesses’, announces Forbes. ‘Voice Tech is taking over the world’, according to Huffington Post.

Unless you've lived on another planet for the past year, there is no way you could have missed the hype around Voice Technology. Voice assistants are everywhere. Google already announced in 2016 that 20 percent of all searches have a voice intent. This is a number that keeps on growing. According to ComScore, 50% of searches will be done without a screen by 2020. Is this true? Should you be excited? Or worried? Is it the next big revolution or is it just another buzzword, soon to be forgotten? Let’s find out.

A combination of two AI-technologies

First, let’s go back to basics. What is Voice Technology? It is the combination of two Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques: voice recognition and Natural Language Processing (NLP). Voice recognition has everything to do with converting sound waves into written words. NLP then processes these words in order to match an intent which will eventually trigger a (useful) action (e.g. putting music on). 

A vibrant smart speaker landscape

Most people immediately link Voice Technology with smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. But the technology itself can be active in a range of devices: smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, laptops, cars, remotes, watches and so on.

If we focus on Smart Speakers, Amazon (Echo) and Google (Home) dominate the worldwide market with respectively 47% and 29% market share. Other players such as Apple (HomePod, 5%) and Microsoft (which cooperates with other manufacturers as Harman Kardon; 1.3%) are relatively small. Alibaba, Sonos, Lenovo, JBL and Sony have also released smart speakers, but own a negligible market share.

Comparison between popular smart speakers

Belgium is lagging behind

With more than 20% smart speaker ownership in the USA and more than 10% in the UK, smart speakers are already quite present in international households. Growth predictions are also very optimistic with a penetration prediction of 75% in the USA by 2020 and a current intend to purchase of 40% in the UK. Belgian ownership estimates are around 3% but I am confident that Belgians will follow the international public in adopting smart speakers. After all, who wouldn’t want a low-maintenance partner that executes tasks, never complains and comes with a power button?

Trough of disillusionment

According to Gartner’s famous hype cycle, virtual assistants are almost in the trough of the disillusionment phase. In this phase, public opinion considers the technology as failed, while producers shake out and investors (hopefully) continue to invest. This phase is only temporary though. Gartner predicts that mainstream adoption – the so-called plateau of productivity – for virtual assistants will be there in two to five years.

Gartner's Hype Cycle


A smart speaker can be a beautiful design object, but apart from this, what does it actually do? Well, smart speakers can already do a lot. The most popular activities are answering questions, playing music, giving news updates and practicalities such as setting an alarm, giving cooking instructions and performing traffic checks. Wondering where to put your new best friend? The most popular places are the living room, the kitchen and the bedroom.

Activities in percentages

There are already a lot of qualitative third-party smart speaker applications. These are called ‘skills’ if meant for Amazon’s ecosystem and ‘actions’ if meant for Google’s ecosystem. Uber, Expedia, JustEat, Campbell’s and Domino’s to name just a few, are all already using them to make their customers’ lives easier. They are offering a complete omni-channel experience by adding voice to their touch points.

Do you sometimes feel guilty about drinking a beer? Don’t. But in case you do, Ultra 95 and Alexa have the solution. After saying "Alexa, open Ultra Ninety-Five", Alexa will help you burn 95 calories with a short and effective work-out. 95 calories? That’s exactly as much as the Ultra beer (Michelob, AB Inbev) or almost as much as a Maes (100 calories in 25 centiliters).

But there is more. If you are afraid of burglaries for example, just say "Alexa, run away mode". Your Amazon smart speaker will then trick potential burglars or other unwanted visitors, using pre-recorded conversations. Conversations range from a mother trying to assemble Ikea furniture to a book club meeting and even a pirate roleplay game – safety combined with humor… or how a (boring) insurance company (Hippo Insurance) makes relevant content.


VoiceTech & Marketing automation: a match made in heaven

Today there are more touchpoints and channels in the customer journey than ever before. As a smart device, smart speakers bring different channels and touchpoints into the daily routine of their users. As such, they disrupt how people search, make shopping lists, listen to music and buy. Brands should act on this and rethink their omnichannel strategy. Which touchpoints, channels or devices are their customers going to use in the future?

They better move fast. First mover advantages are significant, according to industry experts. But the marketing essentials remain the same: right time, right device and right place are still key in a successful marketing approach. Leveraging the data gathered in the process will drive productivity, customer satisfaction, conversion and sales even more.


Want to know more about Voice Technology?

Wondering how Voice Technology will evolve? And what’s in it for your brand and for you as a marketer? Is there already such a thing as voice commerce? And how can you seize the opportunities smart speakers bring to the table?

Register for our 3-part article series and discover the ins and outs of Voice Technology.


Chief Marketer, Forbes, Gartner, Getting Vocal Report, Huffington Post, Kitewheel, Loup Ventures Research and PWC.